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Archive: July 2008
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RUMOR MILL
Sha'b Residents Hang up Cell Phones around Mahdi Army to Avoid Suspicion
07/16/2008 6:09 PM ET
Google Earth image/IraqSlogger.com.

A rumor circulating in the Sha'b district has left residents fearful of using their mobile phones in front of buildings known to be associated with the Mahdi Army militia, local sources tell IraqSlogger, after two suspected informants are said to have been murdered in the last week.

Residents of the predominantly Shi'a working-class area in northeastern Baghdad explain that the rapid response of US and Iraqi forces to capture or kill some militiamen who have returned to the area has sparked rumors of special informants with special communications links to the American and Iraqi forces.

Locals explain that many wanted militiamen have fled the area in response to an ongoing crackdown on the wanted men. Some have fled to other parts of Iraq, and others across the border to neighboring Iran or elsewhere.

However, Sha'b residents say that rumors circulating in the district hold that American forces quickly kill or capture the wanted militiamen if they are seen again in the district. The rumor maintains that the rapid response is made possible by a network of special informants who immediately contact US or Iraqi forces as soon as a wanted suspect appears.

The suspected role of informants is also rumored to to have sparked a counter-attack, locals say. Sha'b residents point to the deaths of two men in the last week in separate attacks. Both are rumored to have been providing information to Iraqi or American forces, residents explain. One of the victims was said to be a member of the militia who became be an informant for the US or Iraqi forces.

Sha'b residents tell IraqSlogger that informants are rumored to have received special-issue SIM cards for their mobile telephones, which allow them to contact US forces directly from a standard Iraqi mobile phone to tip them off to the presence of wanted individuals.

The circulation of this rumor has in turn made ordinary residents fearful of using their mobile phones in front of houses and mosques that might be related to Mahdi Army militia activities in order to avoid arousing suspicion that they could be informants participating in American intelligence-gathering operations.

RUMOR MILL
A Civilian Airport in Halabja, or "Cover" for a US Airbase on Iranian Border?
07/16/2008 3:05 PM ET

The announcement of an American-backed plan to construct an airfield in a Kurdish town near the Iranian border has sparked rumors that the scheme may be "cover" for a new American military base.

According to Aswat al-Iraq's report in Arabic, the head of the Halabja municipality, located in Sulaymaniya province, said on Tuesday that the town has set aside a plot of land in the east of the Halabja district for building an international airport, financed by the United States.

However, an official source also told the agency that the airport is actually a project "to cover" an airbase, for the benefit of American military operations.

Khadar Karim Muhamad, the head of the municipality, told Aswat al-Iraq that Halabja had set aside a 1500-dunum area in the east of Halabja district to build an airport with American support. In Iraq, a 1500-dunam area is equivalent to approximately 1.4 square miles.

The airport project comes "at the request of the Kurdistan regional government" for an airport site, he said, adding that the Halabja municipality had presented a plan for the project to the Kurdish regional government, the agency writes.

Halabja is situated about 50 miles southeast of Sulaymaniya city, near the Iranian border.

When questioned on the American goals in constructing an airport so close to the Iranian border, Muhammad said only that all he knew was that "The Americans will build a civilian international airport in Halabja," adding that he "had not seen the complete details of the project."

An official source in Sulaymaniya province, speaking anonymously, told Aswat al-Iraq that he "doubted" that the project in the Kurdish town was "more than just a civilian airport," instead suggesting that Halabja would host "a large military base financed by the Americans," the agency writes.

The source cited the growing tensions between the United States and Iran "step to establish a military base near the Iranian border."

A number of Kurdish officials have said, on several occasions, that they would not block the estabilishment of a military base in Iraqi Kurdistan, Aswat al-Iraq writes, also referring to an early 2007 interview with Mas'oud Barzani with the French Le Monde, in which the Kurdistan regional president said he welcomed the possibility of establishing a base in the northern Iraqi region.

A "delegation" from the American consulate in Irbil visited Halabja some months ago, "to survey the principal and secondary roads that lead to Iran on the pretext of offering services" to the Halabja area, the Kurdish official told Aswat al-Iraq.

"Several American delegations have visited the area since 2003 and until today, without offering anything to the people," of Halabja, but then pointed out that the Americans have financed a project to deliver water to an industrial area in the district.

Aswat al-Iraq's report has been picked up and carried in truncated form on Arabic-language Iraqi websites, such as al-Jiran and the Iraqi News Agency, that tend to be editorially opposed to the American presence in Iraq, and suspicious of Kurdish ambitions with regards to Iraq's territorial integrity.

The town of Halabja is the center of the Halabja district, which was the site of a deadly chemical attack in March 1988 by the former Iraqi regime, which killed more than 5,000 citizens and injured more than 10,000, according to Kurdish reports.

RUMOR MILL
Baghdadis Suspect Cops, Sahwa, Rival Forces, in Rumored Assassination Spate
07/11/2008 1:01 PM ET
Google Earth image/IraqSlogger.com.

Rumors are circulating in areas of northern Baghdad of an assassination campaign against Iraqis who provide information to a powerful militia.

Iraqis in the predominantly Shi'a areas of Sha'b and Ur, east of the Tigris, and Shu'la, in northwestern Baghdad, say that nearly a dozen suspected Mahdi Army informants are said to have been assassinated in the last week.

Residents suspect that the reported murders could be linked, describing the alleged victims as men who are said to have provided information to the Mahdi Army militia, but who are not known to be members of the militia itself.

The rumor also states that militiamen had earlier used information from the alleged informants to carry out assassinations of their own, against members of the Iraqi police forces, rival militias, and the locally organized pro-US irregular forces known as Sahwa.

Residents tell Slogger that the rumored assassination campaign is said to be payback for the alleged involvement of the informants in earlier murders, and therefore suspicions center on members of the police, Sahwa, and rival Shi'a militia groups.

It is well known that the Mahdi Army and other armed groups in Iraq, including regular and irregular forces, rely on civilian informants to faciliate their operations. However, IraqSlogger cannot confirm rumors of a concerted assassination campaign against Mahdi Army informants at this time.

Photo Gallery
Wacky Costumes and Banners Mark Ceremony at Engineering School
07/09/2008 1:54 PM ET
Iraqi graduates in costume for the 2008 Baghdad Technology University graduation.
Iraqi graduates in costume for the 2008 Baghdad Technology University graduation.

2008 graduates of the Baghdad Technology University donned costumes and installed elaborate banners and decorations on their campus to mark their graduation ceremony, in a longstanding Iraqi tradition.

One Iraqi who attended the ceremonies at the engineering and technical school reported that the motifs in this years costumes included war, a theme with which all the Iraqi graduates would be intimately familiar, traditional Arab dress, as well as costumes inspired by melodramatic Syrian television programs known throughout Iraq.

Below are some photos from the 2008 graduation ceremony.

Technology University students decorate their university facilities with banners installations.
Technology University students decorate their university facilities with banners installations.


Graduates in costume.
Graduates in costume.

A banner produced by a group of graduating engineering students in costume as military commandos.
A banner produced by a group of graduating engineering students in costume as military commandos.

Graduates in costume as an armed group.
Graduates in costume as an armed group.

Photoshopped banner represents a group of graduating students as a military unit.
Photoshopped banner represents a group of graduating students as a military unit.

Students dressed as cavemen for the graduation ceremonies.
Students dressed as cavemen for the graduation ceremonies.

A graduate dons traditional Arab garb and rides a horse for the festivities.
A graduate dons traditional Arab garb and rides a horse for the festivities.

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